First, it is important to mention that the main principle behind this legislation seems laudable, even though some parts have serious flaws that would also have serious consequences.
The hon. member wants to reward permanent residents who join the Canadian armed forces by speeding up citizenship approval, and the official opposition supports that idea.
The suggestion to reduce from three to two years the required period of residence in Canada to grant citizenship to a member of the armed forces meets several objectives.
It would allow us to better recognize and value the contribution of the newcomers who join our armed forces.
Our military make sacrifices. Sometimes, they even make the ultimate sacrifice. As parliamentarians, it is our duty to give them all the recognition they deserve. Therefore, acknowledging this exceptional contribution by speeding up citizenship approval would be welcome.
Moreover, this initiative would support the Canadian Forces' will to promote greater diversity in their ranks.
Currently, visible minorities account for only 6% of the Canadian armed forces. That is clearly not enough, considering that, by the end of the decade, visible minorities will account for 20% of the labour force. If the proposed measure can promote greater representation for ethnocultural communities in our armed forces, we will be happy to support it.
After all, the Canadian Forces serve the community and act as representatives abroad. Therefore, it is essential that they reflect the diversity of Canadian society.
That said, several aspects of Bill C-425 are quite problematic.
First, I am particularly concerned about the issue of renunciation of citizenship.
The bill provides that a citizen or a legal resident of a country other than Canada is deemed to have made an application for renunciation of his Canadian citizenship if he engages in an act of war against the Canadian armed forces. Also, a permanent resident who commits such an act would also be deemed to have withdrawn his application for Canadian citizenship.
The fact is that there is no definition of the expressions “act of war” and “legal resident” in Canadian law.
Also, there is no mention in the text submitted by the member for Calgary Northeast of the processes that, for example, would follow an accusation of act of war. Consequently, the bill does not have the necessary legal basis for its implementation and it would be totally dependent on judicial interpretation.
The scope of the legislation proposed by the hon. member is very broad, unless benchmarks are included regarding its legal basis and the resulting processes.
So, it is essential that the committee look at ways to define the terms used in the bill and spell out the process related to this possible renunciation of citizenship.
The operationalization of Bill C-425 is also problematic.
First, the basic requirement to join the Canadian Forces is to be a Canadian citizen. The only possibility for a permanent resident to join is to get an authorization from the Chief of the Defence Staff to fill a special need, or because of a significant lack of human resources, which is presently not the case.
Only a very small minority will be able to take advantage of the bill’s positive aspects.
As a matter of fact, during the discussions that have taken place at second reading, the sponsor of the bill has been unable to provide us with information about the number of people who might be affected by this measure.
There is therefore some research that should be conducted on this point. In addition, we think it is fair to wonder whether the government’s real objective here is not the renunciation of Canadian citizenship much more than it is the recognition of military service.
The delays in obtaining citizenship also deserve particular attention.
Right now, nearly 300,000 permanent residents are waiting to be granted Canadian citizenship. Consequently, despite the good will of the bill’s sponsor, the reality is that departmental cutbacks have significantly reduced the pace at which files are handled at all levels.
The handful of permanent residents who, according to the current version, will be able to take advantage of the proposed measure will not be much further ahead because of the huge backlog of applications.
In addition, I am wondering about the way in which the government has prioritized its action. The minister announced cuts of $80.3 million in the last budget, he is shutting down visa application centres and scaling down client services at CIC.
Delays in all immigration programs are escalating all the time. People are having trouble reaching staff members, and thousands of applicants are paying for the minister’s mistakes.
There is therefore a dichotomy between the bill introduced by the member and the decisions being made by the current government. As the system is being gutted, my colleague is proposing to accelerate processing of citizenship applications for permanent residents who might be able to serve in the Canadian Forces.
That being said, I agree with the bill’s principle and direction, and I think it necessary to support the bill at second reading, so that it can be reviewed in depth in committee. However, several elements that will make the bill acceptable in both its content and its implementation will have to be included.
The notions of “act of war” and “legal resident” should be defined in the bill in order to limit the potential for judicial interpretation. The process surrounding the renunciation of citizenship must also be considered. We will have to debate this part of the bill and flesh it out. It would be completely shameful for the government to create two classes of citizens without any debate or real consultation.
We must also consider the scope of the bill and potentially broaden it. It would be short-sighted to make legislative amendments that affect so few individuals.
In closing, I believe that we must consider Bill C-425. However, it seems clear to me that we must work together to limit its potential for abuse and optimize its application. This will allow us to come back to the House with a document that meets its original objectives.